Poetry Friday: I’m fudging it again

h1 February 20th, 2009 by eisha

Blackfoot RiverIt’s prose, not poetry. I’m sorry. But for some reason this passage from Norman Maclean’s story “A River Runs Through It” popped into my head the other day and won’t leave me alone. So, think of it as a prose poem, and enjoy.

This excerpt is at the end of the story, where Norman and his father are talking about his brother’s death:

“I’ve said I’ve told you all I know. If you push me far enough, all I really know for certain is that he was a fine fisherman.”

“You know more than that,” my father said. “He was beautiful.”

“Yes,” I said, “he was beautiful. He should have been — you taught him.”

My father looked at me for a long time — he just looked at me. So this was the last he and I ever said to each other about Paul’s death.

Indirectly, though, he was present in many of our conversations. Once, for instance, my father asked me a series of questions that suddenly made me wonder whether I understood even my father whom I felt closer to than any man I had ever known. “You like to tell true stories, don’t you?” he asked, and I answered “Yes, I like to tell stories that are true.”

Then he asked, “After you have finished your true stories sometime, why don’t you make up a story and the people to go with it?

“Only then will you understand what happened and why.

“It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”

Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.

Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.

I saw this movie in the theater when it came out, and was captivated. A friend was equally captivated, and gave me a copy of the book. I am forever grateful – it’s a lovely thing.

* * * * * * *

Hey, here’s a new blog to me: The Holly and the Ivy. That’s where Cuileann is handling this week’s Poetry Friday round-up. Go check it out – I bet other people posted some actual poetry for you.

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10 comments to “Poetry Friday: I’m fudging it again”

  1. Another in a long line of movies I haven’t yet seen… ! However, that is a lovely piece of poetic prose; I think it at least inspires me to read the book. And the river is gorgeous.


  2. Well, in my book, that’s poetry – it’s just not broken into lines. And that last line always takes my breath away. Thanks for posting it, Eisha.


  3. I saw the movie, but haven’t read the book. Gorgeous prose!!


  4. I’ve never seen the movie, but A River Runs Through It is one of my favorite books. It’s “Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs,” that gets me in that ending passage. I also love, from the beginning: “My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things–trout as well as eternal salvation–come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.” So true.

    Incidentally, when I read this book with my book group, years ago when I used to run a book group, everyone in my group HATED this book because, they said, “It’s just about fishing.”


  5. Now if that’s not poetry I don’t know what is. “Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs”: sigh… Like Julie said, it seems kind of nit-picky to worry about details like line breaks.

    Thanks for posting this, Eisha!


  6. That settles it. I’m gonna read A River Runs Through It already. I’m surprised, Eisha, that Chris Lance still speaks to me for not having read it yet (it was Chris who adored it so, right?).

    My novel choices have been so random lately, since I gave up accepting novels as review copies, for the most part, and it’s just so much fun. In fact, I just last night started Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Finally. Soooooooo good, but I know I’m preaching to the choir on that one.

    Do you know, E, that I remember getting that Maclean excerpt from you, all hand-written, in our Literature Exchange back in college? A little gift in my college p.o. box. I still have those! Guess we’re doing the same thing now — it’s just all cyber.


  7. I remember seeing the movie and reading the book in college. I confess I don’t remember too much of the book, but the passages you quoted are great.


  8. Thanks, all, for letting me fudge my way through another PF. And thanks, also, for kindly overlooking that strangely goofy sentence “On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.” The rest is good enough for me to forgive Maclean that one misstep.

    Yeah, Jules, it was Chris. And I’ve thought that before, too – about us continuing the Lit Exchange this way. Funny, the more things change the more they stay the same, as they say.


  9. Forgive me for commenting on a post from two years ago, but I’ve just come across this in a Google search. I saw this movie as a young teenager, and was captivated by it. Some years later, I rarely see films anymore; mostly read, because films are rarely worth the admission. I read this recently, and the same emotions stirred up. I wonder if you, or those who contribute comments, could recommend anything similarly beautiful – in the same style of prose (or ‘poetry’), or in meaning. The story sums up much about life that I’ve experienced and not found many prepared to articulate, and I find that closing passage amongst the most moving I’ve read anywhere.


  10. James, great question. I will think on this. I will also pass the question on to Eisha, who wrote this post but no longer blogs here. I bet she may have some good suggestions.

    Have you ever read Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things?


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